Design-Build or Die!

Did you get an e-mail from the Mobility 21 Coalition Friday afternoon, urging you to “Please call your state senator now and urge him or her to support SB 1026?”

If you are even marginally involved in public policy in California you probably did. (And I’m about as marginally involved as anyone could be.) Aside from arriving a tad late to do much good (the bill will be heard Monday), the call to action is a little obscure:

On Monday, January 9, the California State Senate will consider SB 1026 (Kuehl), which will help bring relief to one of our nation’s most heavily congested corridors–the 405 Freeway. SB 1026 will allow the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority–in close conjunction with Caltrans–to use the design-build contracting method for the HOV lane on the 405 Freeway. Mobility 21 needs your help to secure this bill’s passage!

I’d be glad to help, of course, but I didn’t understand what the “design-build contracting method” is, and why I should join the march on Sacramento to demand it. On first blush, it’s not a concept that gets the blood flowing.

Mobility 21’s website isn’t enlightening. The Legislative Alert on SB 1026 helps you contact Sacramento with just a few mouse-clicks, but doesn’t explain why you should. “Design-build” doesn’t even rate a mention in the release about the Fourth Annual Mobility 21 Transportation Summit, which only took place in November. It does, however, announce some important recommendations to “overcome the region’s crushing traffic congestion,” including:

Develop a Quality of Life Index that reflects a contextural shift in the paradigm of decision-making for major transportation corridor studies and infrastructure investments. Minimum indicators would include Environment, Equity and Economy as key indicators for determining the value of proposed improvements/investments.

Develop indicators that measure the quality of participation, process and education in public outreach and education programs associated with major transportation corridor studies. Use these indicators to establish a threshold for community based support.

Wow! Can’t wait for that!

I didn’t want to leave you hanging, so I did my own research on “design-build.” There is a Design-Build Institute of America, and its website has a link called “What is Design-Build?” Great! So I clicked it and was taken to a page that promises “a concise, easy to understand overview of the design-build process,” and then six more links. I clicked the one that said “An Introduction to Design-Build.” That seemed promising. Here’s what I found:

A Classical Notion of Single Source Responsibility:
Design-Build is a process that has been embraced by the world’s Great civilizations. In ancient Mesopotamia, the Code of Hammurabi (1800 BC) fixed absolute accountability upon master builders for both design and construction. In the succeeding millennia, cathedrals and cable-stayed bridges, cloisters and corporate headquarters, have been conceived and constructed using the paradigm of design-build.

Return to the time-honored approach of the Master Builder, where a single source has absolute accountability for both design and construction.

When the citizens of classical Greece envisioned their great temples, public buildings and civil works, master builders were engaged to both design and construct these monumental structures. Master builders accepted full responsibility for integrating conceptual design with functional performance. To assume anything less than complete accountability for delivering a project was unthinkable.

So it turns out we’re talking about much more than merely making some improvements to the freeways. No, we’re talking about revival of the Code of Hammurabi! Do you know what that is? For those of you fluent in Old Babylonian, here’s the original:

Code of Hammurabi They had quite a system in the days when Mesopotamia was “the cradle of civilization.” The laws, literally “written in stone,” were hard to change–not even a king could do it. Also, according to Wikipedia, “the laws do not accept excuses or explanations for mistakes or fault: the Code was openly displayed for all to see, so no man could plead ignorance of the law as an excuse. Few people, however, could read in that era (literacy mainly being the domain of scribes)”

Harsh! But perhaps necessary to get traffic flowing again on the 405.

So, by all means, call your state senator to support SB 1026. I’m sure their voice-mail will be working all weekend. Tell them you want the LA County MTA to bring back the good old days when citizens were tenants of the gods, when fathers purchased brides for their sons, and when the same people who designed carpool lanes were expected to build them, too.

P.S. And while you’re at it, ask them why “design-build” is illegal in the first place.

3 thoughts on “Design-Build or Die!

  1. I read your article on Mobility 21 where you posed a good question regarding design-build. To break it down for you, design-build relates to how they will procure the contract. In a design-build contract or project, typically one prime contractor will design and build the project/ provide services and manpower as supposed to procuring the contract and seeking subcontractors (normally small business contractors). It is not a favorable way to advertise the contract for small business because it would specifically define the scope of work as too complicated, detailed, very involved, etc., thus not providing contracting opportuntiy to small business community, Perhaps the engineering, construction, professional services phase, etc are finely defined that it best that a “more experienced” prime contractor (otherwise referred by small businesses as the “big boys” would perform the work. Thus, they would design and build the project that may or may not advertise to the general public with small business goal (or contracting opportunity that would allow small businesse contractors can particiapte in the bidding process). Hope that clarifies.

  2. Yes, thanks. Your post also hints at what makes this a controversial idea. The longtime contracting system might not have been as efficient, but it provided lots of opportunities for small businesses, and minority- and women-owned businesses to prosper. Government seems to be saying that, with respect to highways, this is a luxury it no longer wishes to afford.

  3. I was browsing around and I happened to see the article you wrote about the Code of Hammurabi. i don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the picture you displayed is a fake.

    The real one is much larger, ssilver-colored, and has a picture of Hammurabi recieving the laws from their God.

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